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Once again I am forced to tap the ‘singleplayer games are not dying’ sign

Immortals of Aveum, a singleplayer shooter that released last year, totally flopped, and one person who worked on it reckons that “trying to make a triple-A singleplayer shooter in today’s market was a truly awful idea.”

If you also subject yourself to the crucible that is social media videogame discourse, you may have recently seen one or more of the following statements about that comment and what the fate of this one wizard shooter means for gaming as a whole:

Singleplayer games are dyingActually, the games industry is failing because it spends millions making games like Immortals of Aveum instead of smaller, cheaper gamesActually, Immortals of Aveum just wasn’t marketed enough

I don’t think any of those conclusions are right.

Singleplayer games aren’t dying (obviously)

This one doesn’t need much debunking: Some of the games that made the most money on Steam last year were Starfield, Baldur’s Gate 3, Hogwarts Legacy, and Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. Singleplayer shooter Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl is currently one of the most wishlisted games on Steam, and PC Gamer’s most anticipated game right now.

Big-budget games aren’t dying, either

Larian produced some great games before Baldur’s Gate 3, including PC Gamer’s 2017 Game of the Year, but BG3 is by far its greatest commercial success. I’d wager that the D&D license and all the animated smooching had a lot to do with that.

Making big expensive games is clearly still a viable, if risky, path to commercial success. Would Rockstar be wise to scale back Grand Theft Auto 6? Are we going to tell Hideo Kojima he ought to stop putting famous actors in performance capture rigs? It’s his whole thing!

Well, maybe there is an argument for not indulging Hollywood-obsessed videogame auteurs too much, but the idea that triple-A games are being made in lieu of smaller games doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Look at our 2023 GOTYs: Dave the Diver! Dredge! Tchia!

I’m not convinced ‘more marketing’ was the answer

On a recent episode of podcast Remap Radio, Immortals of Aveum studio founder Bret Robbins acknowledged that the game was dealt a cruel hand by the release date gods, coming out in between Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield, and that public awareness was low. He was surprised it flopped as badly as it did and hopes it can still find success.

If it had come out in another year, maybe it would’ve sold better, but I doubt that another $10 million worth of marketing from publisher EA would’ve done the trick. Lots of people are talking about Immortals now, and it’s on sale for $24, but it still ain’t at the top of Steam’s top sellers list.

Some games just flop

The Immortals of Aveum studio has been accused of learning the wrong lesson from its financial failure, but the quote that kicked off this discourse—”trying to make a AAA singleplayer shooter in today’s market was a truly awful idea”—didn’t come from Robbins. It was said by an anonymous former studio employee who spoke to IGN.

It’s ironic that Robbins would be accused of having too little faith in singleplayer shooters, because he’s all about them. At a preview event for Immortals of Aveum (see, EA did promote it), I asked him why he chose to make such an old-fashioned kind of FPS campaign—it reminded me of mid-2000s Xbox 360 games—and he said that “well-crafted, scripted” experiences are just what he likes to make. Robbins was previously the creative director of Dead Space and worked on a trio of Call of Dutys.

It’s a respectable passion, but I’m not really surprised that a Call of Duty-style campaign with a story inspired by the waning Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t succeed in 2023.

If what that ex-employee meant is that it’s harder today than it was in the 2000s or 2010s to get a mainstream hit out of a linear shooter campaign with nice graphics and a dude with magic powers, then yeah, definitely. Immortals of Aveum’s old-fashioned (in videogame timescales) “AAA singleplayer shooter” design needed another hook, and its puppydog-eyed YA novel protagonist wasn’t it.

Dead Space executive producer Glen Schofield had a similar problem with The Callisto Protocol, which also didn’t sell. Judas, the upcoming BioShock-like game from Ken Levine, probably has a better shot at commercial success, because people will come for the Levine plot twist if nothing else, but it doesn’t feel like a sure hit—not like BioShock Infinite did 10 years ago.Even Halo has not been immune to changing tastes: Halo 3’s campaign was a huge event, Halo Infinite’s was not.

What I’ve played of Immortals of Aveum wasn’t bad—I even liked some of the dialogue from its precocious wizard hero—but quality of execution is no guarantee of success. If it were, the Zork series wouldn’t have ended with the excellent Zork: Grand Inquisitor. Some games are just flops!

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